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Debt collection laws in every state

How the state and federal government protects you.

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Got a call from a debt collector? There are several national and state laws in place to protect consumers and ensure debt collection companies are acting fairly. Knowing what your debt collector can and can’t do can help you spot when you’re being harassed and avoid common scams.

How has the coronavirus affected debt collection laws?

Many states temporarily forced commercial debt collectors to stop collecting on debts and wage garnishments during the early months of the pandemic. However, with stay-at-home orders ending across the country and many businesses resuming near-normal hours, states may not renew the pause on collection activity.

You can browse consumer protections by state on the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) website to see what provisions your state government still has in place. You can also contact your state attorney general and check local news outlets to find current information on debt collection moratoriums in your area.

For more general information, jump to debt collector laws by state to see what policies your state has to protect consumers.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

The main law that protects consumers is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), though many states have other laws to add additional protections. If you think a debt collector is violating the FDCPA, file a complaint against it with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

What is the FDCPA?

The FDCPA is a federal law that prevents debt collectors from harassing or misleading consumers. It covers debt collection for mortgages, credit cards, personal loans, medical debt and other types of debt for personal use.

How does it protect me?

Quite a few protections are allotted by FDCPA.

Before you sign up with a debt relief company

Debt relief companies typically charge a percentage of a customer’s debt or a monthly program fee for their services. And not all companies are transparent about these costs or drawbacks that can negatively affect your credit score. Depending on the company you work with, you might pay other fees for third-party settlement services or setting up new accounts, which can leave you in a worse situation than when you signed up.

Consider alternatives before signing up with a debt relief company:

  • Payment extensions. Companies you owe may be willing to extend your payment due date or put you on a longer payment plan if you ask.
  • Nonprofit credit counseling. Look for free debt-management help from nonprofit organizations like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
  • Debt settlement. If you can manage to pay a portion of the bill, offer the collection agency a one-time payment as a settlement. Collection agencies are often willing to accept a lower payment on your debt to close the account.

Debt collector laws by state

While each state must follow the FDCPA, most have additional laws that regulate how debt collectors interact with consumers. Use the table below to learn how your state protects you.

StateLearn more
AlabamaFollows federal regulations
AlaskaRead more
ArizonaRead more
ArkansasRead more
CaliforniaRead more
ColoradoRead more
ConnecticutRead more
DelawareRead more
FloridaFollows federal regulations
GeorgiaRead more
HawaiiRead more
IdahoRead more
IdahoRead more
IllinoisRead more
IndianaRead more
IowaRead more
KansasFollows federal regulations
KentuckyFollows federal regulations
LouisianaFollows federal regulations
MaineRead more
MarylandRead more
MassachusettsRead more
MichiganRead more
MinnesotaRead more
MississippiFollows federal regulations
MissouriRead more
MontanaRead more
NebraskaRead more
NevadaFollows federal regulations
New HampshireRead more
New JerseyRead more
New MexicoFollows federal regulations
New YorkRead more
North CarolinaRead more
North DakotaRead more
OhioRead more
OklahomaFollows federal regulations
OregonFollows federal regulations
PennsylvaniaRead more
PennsylvaniaRead more
Rhode IslandFollows federal regulations
South CarolinaRead more
TennesseeFollows federal regulations
TexasRead more
UtahRead more
VermontRead more
VirginiaRead more
WashingtonRead more
WisconsinRead more
WyomingFollows federal regulations

I feel like my rights were violated. What can I do?

If you believe a debt collector has violated the law, the next step is to file a complaint. If it’s a FDCPA violation, you can file a complaint with the FTC. Otherwise, you can file a complaint with your state attorney general’s office.

How to file a complaint with the FTC

You can file a complaint with the FTC on its website or by calling 877-382-4357. Here’s how to get started online:

  1. Go to the FTC complaint website.
  2. Click Credit and debt from the list of categories.
  3. Click Debt.
  4. Complete the questions with information about yourself and the debt collector.

The FTC shares complaints with law enforcement and contacts the business in an attempt to get the issue resolved. If you think you have a real case for an FDCPA violation, you can also sue the debt collector for damages like lost income. Even without damages, you could be awarded up to $1,000 to cover attorney fees and other costs associated with the case.

If you join a class action lawsuit with other consumers, you could recover money for damages up to $500,000 or 1% of the debt collector’s net worth — whichever is less.

How to file a complaint with your state’s attorney general

Each state’s attorney general office has its own process for filing a complaint. You can typically get more information about the complaint procedure by visiting its website. Often, you can file a complaint online or over the phone.

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Before you sign up with a debt relief company

Debt relief companies typically charge a percentage of a customer’s debt or a monthly program fee for their services. And not all companies are transparent about these costs or drawbacks that can negatively affect your credit score. Depending on the company you work with, you might pay other fees for third-party settlement services or setting up new accounts, which can leave you in a worse situation than when you signed up.

Consider alternatives before signing up with a debt relief company:

  • Payment extensions. Companies you owe may be willing to extend your payment due date or put you on a longer payment plan if you ask.
  • Nonprofit credit counseling. Look for free debt-management help from nonprofit organizations like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
  • Debt settlement. If you can manage to pay a portion of the bill, offer the collection agency a one-time payment as a settlement. Collection agencies are often willing to accept a lower payment on your debt to close the account.

Bottom line

Federal and state debt collection regulations are meant to ensure fair measures are taken for both the borrower and the collector. Familiarizing yourself with these laws can not only help you navigate the debt collection process, but can also help you avoid scams.

Read our guide to dealing with debt collectors to learn more about how it all works.

Frequently asked questions

To get a few more details on debt collection laws, take a look at these answers to common questions.

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